He founded Paypal, co-founded Tesla, a company at the forefront of the latest technology in the world, and then founded SpaceX, whose technology it is hoped one day might take us to new worlds. Throw in founding tunnelling firm The Boring Company, Neuralink, a company working on brain-computer interfaces and co-chairing OpenAI, a not-for-profit artificial intelligence research company. Elon Musk is on a furious one-man mission to both elevate and potentially save humanity through technology.
Yesterday’s successful launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, and its partially successful aftermath, marks a significant landmark toward’s Musk’s stated goal of establishing a human colony on Mars. Musk believes that splitting the eggs of humanity between two planetary baskets hugely reduces the risk of our eventual extinction.
Yesterday’s privately funded launch of the most powerful rocket since NASA’s heyday 45 years ago was also not wasted as a publicity opportunity for Tesla, Musk’s Nasdaq listed tech company that builds electric vehicles and renewable energy generation and storage systems. The rocket launched carrying one of Tesla’s Roadster cars, which should enter an Earth-Mars orbit around the sun playing David Bowie’s Space Oddity on its stereo with a dummy astronaut dubbed Starman at its wheel.
The Falcon Heavy rocket’s technology is designed to allow two of its three boosters to detach and return to Earth undamaged and reusable. That part of the unmanned test launch worked perfectly, with the two boosters landing cleanly and in perfect synchronisation a few miles from the Cape Canaveral launch site minutes later. After releasing its nose cone into orbit, the rocket’s centre was supposed to return to Earth and land on a drone ship located in the Atlantic Ocean. This is again with the idea of it being reusable, making the cost of a launch a fraction of that of the NASA rockets of the 1960s. That part didn’t go quite as exactly to plan and the central core plunged into the Atlantic at 300 mph, sending shrapnel into the drone ship, damaging two of its engines. Still, not bad for a first try!
Cameras mounted on the Tesla Roadster beamed back images of the car cruising through Space with the Earth far below and the vast expanse of the universe beyond. An estimated half a million people travelled to gather and watch the launch from a safe distance around the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Hundreds of millions more watched the launch live on television around the world.
Yesterday’s launch was the first of a series of test launches planned by SpaceX before a manned mission is considered. Manned missions to the moon and eventually to Mars are the ultimate goals of the SpaceX programme over coming years. Those watching yesterday are starting to believe that Musk’s ambition of a human colony on Mars might even become a reality within their own lifetimes. But in the meanwhile, Musk’s other companies will hopefully keep developing the technology to help our current Earth-bound confines become a cleaner, better place to live.